In Asia, where more than 30 million people rely on these resources for their livelihoods, the stakes are high. While the region’s exponential economic growth has benefitted its communities through higher incomes and a better quality of life, ever-increasing commercial, agricultural and industrial activity has also exacerbated threats to the region’s ecosystems. 95 percent of Southeast Asian coral reefs are at risk of being destroyed and over 80 ocean species in the region are listed as critically endangered and endangered.
Scientists have warned that, as increasing amounts of carbon dioxide are absorbed by our oceans, seawater is becoming more acidic, threatening aquatic ecosystems and organisms.
But tides might actually be turning. The Paris Climate Agreement has united many nations in the common cause of tackling climate change by limiting global carbon emissions and thereby protecting our oceans.
The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has made it crystal-clear that a commitment to the conservation of oceans is necessary to secure a better future for all, through Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. One way to protect our vital ocean ecosystems is to increase the number, size and management effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
MPAs are established to preserve not only coastal and marine terrain, water and the genetic diversity of associated flora and fauna, but also historical and cultural heritage.
It is important that the boundaries of MPAs are delineated through multi-stakeholder consultation and consensus, so that encroachment becomes less likely and enforcement becomes more effective. Local communities, which have traditional knowledge of their natural resources, also need to be involved in the governance of their ecosystems to relieve the pressure on both nature and governments.
In Pakistan, Astola Island is shaping up to be the first MPA in the country. At the IUCN World Conservation Congress last September, a motion was adopted to declare the island an MPA. Since then, a situational analysis of the island has been undertaken. The next steps will be to ensure that local communities and other stakeholders at the grassroots level are included in the governance and decision-making processes related to the establishment of the new MPA.
This week, at the UN Ocean Conference in New York, IUCN will be joining the government of Pakistan as it reaffirms its pledge to protect Astola Island, thereby fulfilling its commitment at the Congress to designate at least one site in Pakistan’s territorial waters as an MPA by 2020.
Studies have shown that small MPAs that are well-managed and well-enforced are facilitating resources recovery, sustaining fisheries, improving livelihoods and promoting sustainable tourism. Yet, while MPAs can be very effective in the conservation and management of our oceans, they cannot address all threats to marine life. Complementary actions need to be implemented in parallel to make fishing and aquaculture sustainable, address climate change and reduce marine pollution.
Governments, intergovernmental and civil society organisations alike need to make more efforts to further improve the resilience of coastal ecosystems, support the livelihoods of millions of people, and increase carbon storage capacity by protecting and restoring coastal and marine habitats.
This year’s theme for World Oceans Day is “Our oceans, our future”. Despite recent setbacks such as the US administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, many other nations remain committed to the Paris Accord. Through progressive and forward-thinking policies, commitments from industrialised and developing nations alike, and a multisectorial approach that harnesses advancements in science, finance and development, we actually stand a chance to make our oceans truly great again.
Displayed with permission from Al Jazeera
Aban Marker Kabraji is the Regional Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asia. She provides strategic leadership for IUCN’s work in Asia region. This includes oversight of 11 country offices with 275 staff and some 70 environmental initiatives. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.